Park Ex group organizes free meals for those in need

By Avleen K Mokha

This story was published on May 15 in the print issue for Park Extension News. Some information may not be current.

Residents of Park Extension join in a group effort to distribute meals to residents in need. The effort began on Friday, May 1, few days after the Muslim community began to celebrate Ramadan. Meals will be distributed this Friday, May 22. Abdul Waheed is the main organizer to distribute meals in Park Extension.

Ready to serve meals

Dishes are prepared by cooks at Dera Restaurant, a restaurant located on Jarry street that serves Pakistani cuisine. Meals include dishes like chicken biryani, along with fried snacks like samosas and pakora (vegetable fritters).

Biryani and snacks prepared for distribution. Photo: Avleen K Mokha
Biryani and snacks prepared for distribution. Photo: Avleen K Mokha

No questions asked

Waheed explains that if someone reached out for a meal, they have tried to accommodate the person’s request.

Most importantly, his group asks no questions from any of the people who can benefit from the meals.

“There is no demarcation of the age and status of the people who could benefit from the meals. Our volunteers and donors commit to serve the maximum possible individuals with our limited resources.”

Waheed is trying to accommodate dietary restrictions, although he cannot guarantee accommodations will always be possible. He shared that a family requested for vegetarian meals. The restaurant prepared a vegetarian biryani for the family. Waheed requests such requests get made latest by Wednesday night for the distribution on Friday.

His group is considering offering more kinds of meals, depending upon the amount of donations received.

“Other options like a plate of Shish-Taouk or providing fresh fruits like an orange and a banana, with each meal served are under consideration,” Waheed said, stressing that everyone would need to agree unanimously.

Growing demand

On May 1, funding from the Canada-Pakistan Association will distribute free meals in the neighborhood. Up to 40 meals were available in Park Extension, and up to 200 meals for the greater Montreal region.

Funding for the first round of distribution came from the Manzoor Haque family and Mahmood Ul-haq, president of the Canada-Pakistan organization. However, since the effort received traction, Abdul Waheed and other members of Park Extension began sponsoring meals.

“There are many vulnerable families in the neighbourhood.”

For the second round, Waheed purchased 100 meals. More than 90 meals were delivered on Friday, May 8.

“There are many vulnerable families in the neighbourhood,” Waheed said. “Our objective for the neighbourhood is to give food in this hour of need.”

Waheed’s group needed volunteers to distribute meals to residents who cannot pick them from Dera Restaurant. More than 90 meals were delivered on Friday, May 8.

Rachel Shugart, Hugo Marto, Helen Halyard Cube, Sara Javed, and Guillaume Paquin are some of the volunteers who distributed meals.

Financial sponsors from Park Extension

Waheed has had 24 donations so far, ranging between $12 and $100 through electronic sponsors.

“I thought donating was a perfect opportunity to help out.”

Some donors from Park Extension include Amanda Piedimonte, Julia Wilkie, David Lyle Peter Kuyek, Sasha M. Dyck, Mary Lynn Deachman, Bita Mary, Dexter Xurukulasuriya, Seema Afzal, Helen Halyard Cube, Laura Wills, Sandi Ponente, Justin Khan, KerryAnn Cochrane, Judith Rouan, Camille Audet, Anna Mayberry, and Sophie Ferron. Some donors prefer to stay anonymous.

One of the sponsors, Laura Wills has lived in Park Extension for 12 years. Wills says she is thinking of Muslim families that are fasting for Ramadan. Ramadan began this year on the evening of April 23 and will last till May 23.

“People gather in the streets, people from all over the world,” Wills said. “People dress up nicely and look so happy. It’s really one of the happiest times in the neighbourhood.”

During Ramadan, Muslims also try to practice the tenant of zakat or charity.

“I thought donating was a perfect opportunity to help out,” Wills said.

Still, the biggest contribution comes from Waheed himself, who has committed an amount of $200.00 for this cause, so far it is the highest amount donated or committed.

“A few donors have committed for the next two weeks as well,” he said. “However, the number of donors has decreased significantly from the first two days.”

Waheed’s commitment

Waheed manages the organizational aspect of distributions. Waheed allocates certain hours of each day and the whole of Friday to distribute meals.

“I can say I am giving about 20-24 hrs a week for this cause,” he said.

Waheed receives donations, compiles the list of donations, announces them in Pandem!Ex, Park Extension’s Facebook group for mutual aid. This way, he aims to be transparent about how he receives money.

Simultaneously, he receives requests for meals. Then, he prepares a list to assign families to volunteers, contacts volunteers and delegates them to families.

Waheed struggles with knowing he cannot help everyone, like families that called him up on Friday evenings after all the meals were distributed.

“I wish I had resources that I could have bought the sorrows and miseries of the people of my neighborhood and I have replaced them with joys and pleasures,” Waheed said.

“I imagine that we have given her a sense of Canadian touch, […] where we care about the less privileged to our level best.”

“Although we had not fulfilled all the requirements of that family, I imagine that we have given her a sense of Canadian touch where people are united in a mosaic, through thick and thin, and where we care about the less privileged to our level best.”

If you are a member of Park Extension, you can contact community organizer Abdul Waheed at 514 516-8582 to indicate you need a meal or to assist with delivering meals.

This story was published in print for Park Extension News May 15 issue. Click here to read the full issue.

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